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Chief Thoughts: Analyzing the Patriots’ week 7 win over the Bears

The Patriots bearly hold on for the win.

NFL: New England Patriots at Chicago Bears Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

“We scored 38 points last week. I felt like we left points on the field. We scored 38 points tonight. I felt we left points on the table. Screw the Colts. Can you believe McDaniels almost left me for Luck? Should have dropped a 50 burger on him. That will teach Luck to screw with another man’s OC. McDaniels is my babe and no one else’s.” – A totally real quote from Tom Brady after the win over the Colts.

Have you ever watched a single drive in a game and known that was all you needed to see? That is how I felt after watching Brady flawless drive against the Colts and it’s exactly how I felt after watching the first drive against the Bears. The offense was rolling, the defense got a stop, what chance did a Bears team with Mitchell Trubisky have?

Apparently a damn good one. Which is why I write sports columns and don’t get paid millions of dollars to coach professional football games. Despite the Patriots scoring twice on special teams, the defense generating two turnovers, and the Patriots offense scoring four touchdowns the only thing that separated the Patriots win from an overtime showdown was a single yard. But as the saying goes, the good teams win the close ones and the Patriots have done it in back-to-back weeks. Hell of a way to notch the first road win of the season. Let’s get started.

You Have 5 New Notifications On Your Hype Train

1. Back in August I boldly declared Trent Brown the best move of the offseason. Seven weeks into the 2018 season and I believe that prediction is holding up. Brown has not been dominant but he has been what I predicted. A better pass protector for Brady’s blindside than Nate Solder and at a fraction of the cost. Brown had another above average game in pass protection and has held up well most of the season. I still think it’s fair to say Solder is a better run blocker. But as I insisted in my previous column comparing the two players, when your quarterback is Tom Brady, you prefer the better pass protector.

2. “Just getting warmed up,” commented Tom Brady on a Josh Gordon Instagram post highlighting his excellent catch over Chicago corner back Kyle Fuller. “He’s buying in,” declared team captain James White when asked about the progress Josh Gordon has shown since coming to New England. Josh Gordon wracked up his first 100 yard game for the Patriots. But again what impresses you is not just the production but how he produces. An awesome catch and run where he broke two tackles and an awesome jump catch with his hands fully extended from his body. Josh Gordon only caught four catches on six targets. He is far from the beating heart of the offense. But he has the potential to be an elite weapon. I was adamant before the trade that I thought the chances of this working were very small. And I still thought it was a masterstroke of a trade because the cost-benefit calculus was significantly skewed toward the Patriots. I still think Gordon is a huge question mark but the early signs are about as encouraging as you could reasonably expect. If Gordon continues to pan out there is second fantastic element to this trade. Gordon is only going to be a restricted free agent next year which means the Patriots can maintain his services well below his market value.

3. Stephon Gilmore has turned in another excellent performance. I wish he had better hands, but as the color men on Madden always like to remind me, if they had better hands they would be playing wide receiver. Gilmore is the highest paid player on the defense and he also is the best player on the defense. That’s great to see. His comment regarding Ramsey being a “zone guy” might be an outgrowth of his growing confidence as a Patriots corner. Gilmore has spent years in the NFL and always had a reputation for being a fairly quiet guy. But the best players tend to have a little swag and perhaps that is exactly what Gilmore is developing as he continues to grow into a dominant player.

4. I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb and declare J.C. Jackson a future ball hawk. There has not been a single game where he has played significant snaps and did not come up with a turnover. If you’re corner that can create turnovers it can cover up a lot of mediocrity. Marcus Peters is not a great corner but he is a good corner and a turnover machine which means he gets treated like a great corner. Jason McCourty and Eric Rowe are both free agents next year. J.C. Jackson is a good fit for the Patriots scheme and I don’t think it’s impossible he earns the job next year opposite Gilmore.

5. Jonathan Jones has been a bit of an unsung hero for the Patriots. In the modern NFL an effective slot corner can have just as much value for a defense as a outside corner. The Patriots really didn’t have an answer to the loss of Jones on their roster after he went down last year. I think that played a huge part in drafting Duke Dawson. I don’t think Jonathan Jones will be ignored by the media after an excellent one handed interception against Trubisky. Jones is not the best slot corner in the NFL but he is a good one. Like Gordon, Jones is a restricted free agent next year which means the Patriots will be able to keep his services at below market value.

Bad News With a Silver Lining

It was downright awful seeing Sony Michel go down early in the game on Sunday. Frankly, it probably played a role in how close the game ended up becoming. The Patriots were not able to effectively control the pace and the clock with an above average runner. It also sent a little shiver up my spine to see Rob Gronkowski would be staying home based on issues with his back. The good news is that neither player is reportedly dealing with an injury that should keep them out for an extended period of time. If everything pans out, the Patriots will see the return of two important weapons to an offense that already benefits from the presence of White, Gordon and Edelman.

Trade Targets

The trade deadline is nearing. I want to highlight a few players who I believe it’s possible the Patriots could target and how they would benefit the team. Unsurprisingly they are all defense. Offensively I don’t have any names in mind but a running back and tackle have both got to be on the list.

Rashaan Melvin: His cap hit is reasonable enough for our cash strapped team. He’s played for the Patriots before. Remember Patrick Chung was shipped out of New England before returning, earning an extension, and becoming a team captain. Bill is not afraid to give players he has previously abandoned a second chance. Melvin’s past with the Patriots would help him acclimate as a mid season acquisition. Melvin would probably come dirt cheap. He signed a one year deal with the Raiders and is a clear scheme casualty of their new defensive coordinator. He would fit the New England scheme. Melvin best season came with the Colts in 2017 where he played as an aggressive press man corner. The team will be relying on a undrafted free agent should anything happen to Jason McCourty. Melvin provides them with depth and could potentially be an upgrade over McCourty. The reasons not to trade for him would be they believe the 2017 season was mostly a flash in the pan. They are also surely aware that the second outside corner is not the biggest weakness on the team and may want to dedicate their limited resources elsewhere. If they trade for Melvin it will be because he won’t cost much, they believe he can play like he did in 2017, and there are probably not better targets out there.

Patrick Peterson: Peterson and Gilmore would probably be the best man corner tandem in the NFL. He would probably give the Patriots a better chance of covering tight ends which is a need. I think the Rams are proof of concept that if a team is stacked enough at a couple of positions it can outweigh mediocrity in others. Of course a single injury to a major star could derail that. Are the Patriots really going to find a strong safety who can cover tight ends or a linebacker who can cover running backs in the middle of the season for a reasonable price? Doubt it. Stick Peterson on Tyreek Hill, Gilmore on Sammy Watkins, jam Travis Kelce at the line every single snap, and let Kareem Hunt and Chris Conley beat you. They might but at least you limit Kansas City’s favorite receivers. Still it feels like a luxury target and Bill doesn’t do luxury. Peterson would cost draft capital and take up almost all the remaining cap space. Assuming the Patriots hold onto Jonathan Jones (which seems likely) it would mean the Patriots would have close to $50 million tied up in their secondary next year. An enormous sum and one unlikely to be sustained. It’s possible the Patriots would flip Peterson the way they did Cooks but that’s obviously a risk. Peterson also has next to no dead money so cutting him would be an unlikely but inexpensive move. I find this trade unlikely but it would be cool to see and isn’t a ridiculous notion.

Karl Joseph: Raiders are having a fire sale as Gruden methodically strips the team down into what will probably become a bottom three team. Like Melvin, Joseph is a scheme casualty who could benefit from a change of scenery. Unlike the previous two, this target would be about next year. Devin McCourty has a massive contract that he has not played up to this season or the last. If Bill is comfortable with a deep safety that cannot cover tight ends, and he apparently is with Devin, he may opt to grab younger talent who he could control at a reasonable salary over the next two years. Joseph was hailed coming into the draft as a man of deep football character, a leader, and a consuming passion for the game. That would make him not only on the field replacement for Devin but also a potential locker room one as well.

Deone Bucannon: This is the other big name asset that could reasonably help solve one of the Patriots most glaring issues. Bucannon grew up in a military home so I don’t think the Patriots culture would present an issue. Bucannon offers the type of speed this team desperately lacks and the coverage ability it so sorely needs. There is a nice strip of film where Bucannon is facing off against Green Bay. The tight end Richard Rodgers runs a short crossing route (the seemingly endless bane of the Patriot defense). Bucannon jams the opposing 257 pound tight end at the line of scrimmage and is able to easily trail and knock the ball away. I think this is just as unlikely as the Peterson trade but it would be a nice. If I had to choose between the two I’d probably pick Peterson just because I think he presents less risk. Peterson has been an elite talent for a long time. Bucannon regression this season probably has a lot more to do with the new scheme than anything else but he doesn’t have the track record of Peterson. He also isn’t quite the same level of plug and play.

Haason Reddick: The predraft analysis of Reddick was that he would be converted to linebacker. He flashed excellent athleticism for his size but he lacked the size to play defensive end at the professional level. That did not happen. Reddick continued to play his collegiate position after an injury to the starting defensive end forced him into the lineup. He was not particularly good. That brings us to 2018. I don’t see Reddick as a coverage guy. I do think he could provide some speed and pass rushing versatility to the linebacker core. It’s possible he could learn to improve in coverage since he has the athletic capacity but that would probably take time. To me this trade would be more about the future. Reddick’s upside is a versatile and athletic linebacker on a reasonable rookie contract but it’s unlikely his potential would be unlocked in 2018.

While there are doubtlessly more options available these are a few players that I think are viable on paper.

Murder Management

As the season continues to progress more and more evidence is compiled regarding the Patriots options for the 2019 offseason. Belichick is a notoriously ruthless general manager. Early this year he let Patriot stalwarts Danny Amendola and Nate Solder walk. That cold calculation also extends to trading players he feels have outlived their usefulness as seen in the case of Brandin Cooks and Jamie Collins. What players could fit the bill (hehehehe) this offseason?

This will be extremely unpopular among some people but right now I think trading Gronk is the most viable it has ever been. The best argument against trading Gronk has always been that he is the only elite receiving talent on the roster. No one else can reliably beat man coverage or draw double teams to open up the rest of the offense. For no other reason than this I have strongly opposed any move to trade Gronk – even for a first round pick. Josh Gordon changes that calculus completely, provided Bill believes in him. Believing in Gordon is obviously the biggest caveat of this proposition. It’s the one factor you have to buy into before even beginning to make a reasonable case for trading Gronk in 2019. Let’s also assume Gronk is WILLING to be traded. That’s not a guarantee either but let’s assume that’s true too and see where it takes us.

If Gordon can become the new man coverage buster then Gronk is no longer indispensable to this team. Trading Gronk would have two powerful benefits. First I believe at minimum it would result in an early second or a late first. Second it would free up cap space to sign another premier player such as our current 25-year old left tackle. It’s reasonable to believe the Patriots can afford Gronk and Gordon in 2019 but both will be free agents in 2020. Gordon obviously makes the most sense out of the two. Gronk was relatively healthy last year and still posted a career low in touchdowns. He has been fairly unhealthy so far this season. In the long run trading Gronk next year, provided the return value is good, makes a lot of sense. But as the saying goes we’re all dead in the long run.

So what about the short term? In the short term, Gronk remains a key weapon. Covering Gronk and a fully integrated Gordon is going to give defensive coordinators nightmares. I believe it could easily power a championship run this year. That same concept should hold up next year too. Furthermore, each offers mutual insurance to the others health. If Gordon is out for a game we have Gronk. If Gronk is out for a game we have Gordon. One of the reasons I am so hostile to trading all pro talent is that the draft is a complete crap shoot. There is a chance even one good year of Gronk could outweigh four or five years of whoever we draft. Unlikely but possible. There is also a question of the timing of production. Brady is 41 and will be 42 next year. By the time the rookie we draft contributes in a significant way, Tom could be over the hill. Producing next year when Tom is hopefully still playing at a high level could have a lot more value to the franchise.

Perhaps the least risky move would be trading Gronk for another premier talent that better complements the balance of the roster. Though considering Gronk’s proven capabilities it begs the question of who that possibly could be?

I don’t think the chances of trading Gronk are particularly high. This is an offensive driven league and Gronk is superior offensive weapon. Yes, Bill was willing to trade him this last offseason but it’s become pretty clear that had a lot more to do with Gronk’s lack of commitment to football than it did his play on the field. Once Gronk committed to the team, Bill scuttled the trade. Obviously we don’t know what the Lions offered for him but Bill clearly doesn’t view a committed Gronk as someone he will easily give away. That being said the results of the Gordon experiment could make moving on from Gronk reasonable in a way that it simply has not been in the past. More reasonable does not mean wise. It will be up to Bill to make that call.

Around the League

Nice story about how Belichick tried to hold unto Akiem Hicks. He even gave him the McCourty treatment with a last minute call to cajole him back to the team. Unfortunately Hicks resisted Bill’s siren call.

Congratulations are in order for Jon Gruden. His naked attempt to destroy and rebuild the Raiders got a nice boost by trading Amari Cooper for what could easily turn into a mid round first. That will give the Raiders five first round picks over the next two years. That’s enough capital to start rejuvenating a franchise. I wonder if Carr is a part of Gruden’s plan? The Raiders are bad enough they could easily end up with the first quarterback off the board without even needing to trade up for one. As for the Cowboys? Dumb. Your franchise has a better record with first round picks than any other the last fifteen years. It seems very unlikely a midseason Amari will make a significant difference to your team. I will say this in their defense. Even with Amari on the books the Cowboys are going to have nearly fifty million dollars in cap space. A huge chunk of that will go toward paying Demarcus Lawrence but even then they will have a decent chunk of remaining cap. The Cowboys are really not that much different than the Rams, Eagles and Chiefs in that they are going to go all in on winning with a rookie quarterback. They are different is the sense those teams have good rookie quarterbacks.

The Chiefs have the Cardinals, Broncos and Browns as their next three match ups. Don’t expect New England to catch up to the Chiefs over the next three weeks.

Carson Wentz seems like a great guy but watching the Eagles implode is freaking fantastic.

The Chiefs have got to be in the hunt for a lot of the same targets the Patriots are. The Chiefs will have almost $45 million in cap space next year; they currently have more cap space than the Patriots. Chiefs GM Brett Veach has been obscenely aggressive when targeting talent he likes. They already have a ton of money tied up into Anthony Hitchens and Eric Berry so Bucannon is probably not in their scopes but Patrick Peterson would make a ridiculous amount of sense. They were already prepared to grab Earl Thomas. Why not Peterson? Still, no reports linking them to to Arizona so perhaps I am just crazy.

The Rams might have the best coaching in the NFL outside of New England.

The Vikings are like the Steelers of the NFC. A wide receiver factory.

Forward Focus

I think you have to feel good about this team right now. As it stands today they are banged up but most of the stars remain healthy, or if they are not, should be healthy later in the season. Every NFL is banged up right now so that’s to be expected. The Patriots have all the pieces they need to be a dominant offense and that’s what a championship team looks like in the NFL today. The Patriots defense can’t stop a nosebleed but neither can just about any other NFL defense. At least the Patriots are creating turnovers. The Patriots have put themselves in a good position but it’s going to take a lot of work, and maybe a bit of luck, to secure the number one overall seed. I do not like this teams chances of winning in the Chiefs’ stadium and it will be crucial for the Patriots championship hopes that they are not forced to travel to Arrowhead. Unto Buffalo and the one offense that might make the Patriots defense look good!